Corner store revival on Bremer Street: ‘Penny’ candy, live worms and a sense of community

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Torrance Crawford, owner of TMC Convenience, and store mascot, Vader. Photo/Pat Grossmith

MANCHESTER, NH – Torrance Crawford worked in retail his entire life when two years ago he decided it was time to run his own business.

Crawford, a Long Island native, was living in Brockton, Mass., when he began his search.  The Bay State proved too expensive, so he expanded his search, first looking down South —Georgia and South Carolina — before settling on his ideal location, a variety store for rent in the Queen City.

He took a ride north for a look.  What he saw were people out and about in the neighborhood and an opportunity.

Crawford signed a rental agreement on Jan. 12, 2021, and the next day opened TMC Convenience, 77 Bremer St. at the site of the former Crosstown Market.  TMC are his initials and are those of his two brothers although he says his late mother always said it stood for “Too Many Crawfords.”  His father was one of nine children, Crawford said.

Taking on a rundown store proved challenging.  The store was taking in about $500 a day, which Crawford said was very low for the location and not enough to keep it operating.  To save money, the prior tenant dimmed the lights during the day and at night would turn off coolers and turn them back on at 11 a.m. the following day.  Customers weren’t thrilled by the warm beer they bought.

A fresh look inside and out for this Bremer Street convenience store. Photo/Pat Grossmith

Crawford said it cost more to start up the coolers than to leave them running throughout the night.

He estimated he also tossed about $16,000 in expired product.

Still, he was up for the challenge.  Crawford has years of experience when it comes to variety stores.  The last five years he worked as a field consultant for 7-Eleven, akin to a district manager.  Before that, he was a district manager for Dollar Tree for five years. That experience clearly has focused him on what his customers like and need.

He brought in “penny candy” – Bulls-eyes, bit-o-honey, Mary Janes, etc. — reminiscent of corner stores of the ‘50s and ‘60s or those found at vacation locales.  Penny candy these days, however, is more like “dollars candy.”

Tucked in the back of the store is a small refrigerator designated solely for live worms at $3.99 a container.  It’s a proven seller, he says, and one he added at the suggestion of a customer.

“Penny” candy has proven a great seller at TMC Convenience, 77 Bremer St. Owner Torrance Crawford re-merchandised the former Crosstown Market to meet the neighborhood’s needs./PatGrossmith

A small section of the store features small toys for kids, another plus. 

Crawford also made it a point to carry products that other mom-and-pop stores don’t – Italian ice and premium ice cream, for instance.

As with other convenience stores, cigarettes, beer and wine are staples.

What isn’t so typical, however, is the store mascot – Vader, his 1 ½-year-old black lab.  Unlike his namesake, Vader has a sweet disposition and gently places his paws on the counter each time a customer approaches.  More likely than not, the pooch gets a loving pat on the head for his effort.

Customers love him, Crawford said.  

He has rented out his home in Brockton, Mass. and moved into an apartment two blocks from the market and his other two dogs are now with him.  They won’t be joining Vadar in the store, however.

Torrance Crawford saw a great neighborhood and an even better opportunity when he decided to take over the run-down convenience store on Bremer Street. Photo/Pat Grossmith

Initially, he said he worked about 100 hours a week to make the market a go.  “I get tired but when it’s yours you don’t mind,” he said.

He has since hired three people from the neighborhood to run the cash register and stock the store, giving him a break.

His efforts have paid off, he said.  The store’s sales have increased 180 percent, he said, and are climbing still. 

This Saturday, June 12, 2021, Mayor Joyce Craig will join him in a 9:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting, grand opening ceremony.  Other activities are planned for the day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. including face painting and balloon animals for kids, giveaways and raffle prizes.